Professional softball was supposed to have a moment.
It wasn’t supposed to come from a tweet, and it wasn’t supposed to take agency away from players.
The Scrap Yard Dawgs, a Houston-based independent professional softball team, was just beginning its seven-game series with the USSSA Pride in Florida on Monday, a moment of celebration for the return of professional team sports to the United States.
Instead, according to Kiki Stokes, one of the two black players on the Scrap Yard list, “it felt like defeat.”
Not because of the outcome of the game, but because of the racist tweet sent by the team’s general manager, Connie May.
“We had just finished the game and were heading to the locker room,” Stokes said. “Some of us went into the locker room and looked at our phones and I had quite a few messages from the screenshot. I immediately froze. Everyone around me asked if I had seen, and of course I had. As more and more people entered the locker room, it was that sense of defeat.
“Our coaches entered the locker room, they didn’t even talk about the game. They knew what we had seen.
May, whose name is no longer on the baseball website for the USSSA, where she is her Houston ambassador, sent the insensitive tweet earlier in the game on Monday, saying “Everyone respect the FLAG!” as he labels President Donald Trump with a picture of the players standing during the pregame of the national anthem.
The tweet was removed, but the damage was not.
“He was the only black player in the locker room at the time, so it was emotional for me, but you could tell everyone was sad and angry that someone had spoken on our behalf and surprised us,” Stokes said. “After a game, that’s the first thing you see, and it’s really disappointing.”
The initial reaction throughout the locker room was anger and sadness, along with the frustration of being misrepresented in a sport that is already overwhelmingly white, and for many black athletes, it’s not a welcoming space.
In 2019, only 8 percent of Division I NCAA softball players identified as Black. Stokes last played in Nebraska in 2015, but is now an assistant coach in the state of South Dakota.
The entire team left the organization, and many tweeted that they would never play for the team again, a difficult decision in a fractured landscape of professional softball with limited options, and some of those options are not what the players want.
“[Scrap Yard] left the [pro] league and a lot of people stuck with Scrap Yard, which was the right move at the time, I think, “said Monica Abbott, a pitcher who became the first professional million dollar softball player when she signed with Scrap Yard in 2015 ” It’s fragmented, but I also think it’s not where it should be. They want to progress, but I don’t think it will progress. It is not well organized. It is sad, actually.
“There has been room to grow but it is stagnant, there is room to grow but the teams are leaving. Where are you going from here? “
The Dawgs, whose roster is comprised primarily of representatives from the United States Team, were members of National Pro Fastpitch, the only organized league in professional softball, until the end of the 2017 season. They went on to operate independently, and after last season, Pride followed.
That hits Stokes twice, who has been with the Dawgs since day one, she and Abbott are the two longest-standing players, and he saw their perception of the team he grew up with as a shattered pro.
“I was the first pick in the inaugural team draft,” Stokes said. “I trusted not only my GM but the organization to take care of me. Now it’s like having me on this team, was he just a business pawn?
Players are still deciding how they want to proceed, with many expressing a desire not to allow May’s tweet to take away their chance to play. Abbott described it as a “fluid” situation after the team held another meeting Tuesday afternoon trying to make a decision.
The Pride tweeted on Wednesday morning that they are postponing their remaining games. Their statement said the players made the unanimous decision to support the players in the Dawgs, as they “reflect and determine the best way to move forward as a collective.”
After Monday’s game, May tried to speak to the team, but Stokes said there was no apology before he left.
The team had already made its decision.
“It wasn’t a great conversation,” Stokes said. “She tried to justify what she tweeted and said some things that puzzled us all. She was so upset that it was not an apology, the team did not regret it, only she tried to present her case. My teammates, we all made the decision to walk away. ”
Along with the racist nuances of the May tweet, coming from the team’s account, it took the players’ voices off and misrepresented them, violating trust in a way that cannot be recovered.
“We were surprised that the organization we represent would put something so personal into a team account,” said Abbott. “Many of the things we work for in the world of sports, we fight for many different things and this is a step backwards.
“Everyone left, it is a moment that I will never forget, but a moment that we should never have passed.”
Requests for comment from the Scrap Yard Dawgs organization were not returned as of publication.
Players want to play, but if they do, it won’t be with Scrap Yard on their chest. The unified message of taking a stand against racism is more important than playing for one of the few professional softball teams in the world.
Abbott mentioned a possible charity game in Florida on Saturday, but it’s unclear what will happen next with Pride announcing his postponement and Scrap Yard players still trying to figure out if they can finance their path to being their own team.
No matter what he says in the uniform for players who previously belonged to Scrap Yard Dawgs, Stokes and his teammates don’t allow May’s actions to define their careers.
“A lot of people say we quit, but that is not the case,” Stokes said. “We are still trying to play. We are in Florida and [coronavirus] Cases are skyrocketing every day. But we are trying to instill that hope in people that one person can do something and ruin it for everyone, but we are bigger than that. As powerful and empowered women, we can make a change and keep running with something that someone else tried to take away.
“We don’t want a person to take that away from us.”